A South Carolina convenience store owner has been charged with murder after he fatally shot a 14-year-old boy who he thought was shoplifting from his store.
Authorities say Cyrus Carmack-Belton went into Xpress Mart at the Shell station in Columbia around 8 p.m. Sunday. Its owner, Rick Chow, believed the boy was stealing four water bottles, though he had put them back in the cooler.
"We have no evidence that he stole anything whatsoever," Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said in a news conference.
When Carmack-Belton eventually ran off from the store, Chow, armed with a pistol and accompanied by his son, chased the boy toward a nearby apartment complex. After Carmack-Belton fell and got up, Lott said Chow's son told his dad he saw the boy had a gun. Chow then fired a shot into Carmack-Belton's back.
A gun was found near the 14-year-old's body, but Lott said there was no evidence he'd attempted to use a weapon.
"You don’t shoot somebody in the back that is not a threat to you," Lott said. "Same standard the cops live by."
Chow was arrested Monday after deputies spoke to witnesses, reviewed surveillance video and got the autopsy results.
The coroner said there was no sign Carmack-Belton and the 58-year-old store owner were arguing before the boy ran from the store and that the boy's only wounds were from his fall and the gunshot wound in his lower right back.
Chow, who had a concealed weapons permit, had dealt with multiple shoplifting incidents in the past, with some leading to confrontations, Lott said.
The sheriff's department said the shooting was "not a bias motivated incident," but Carmack-Belton's family's attorney, Democratic State Rep. Todd Rutherford, disagreed.
"What happened to him wasn't an accident," he said in an Instagram post. "It's something that the Black community has experienced for generations: being racially profiled, then shot down in the street like a dog. Words can't describe the pain I feel having known this family for decades."
The day of Chow's arrest, groups of protesters met at his store, where the county's coroner told them not to turn to violence as they called for justice. Then, after a peaceful protest, the store's windows were shattered, its walls were covered with graffiti and a group of people looted the store.
Lott said deputies are now watching the store, and he plans to charge those involved.
Chow is now at Richland County jail after being denied bond Tuesday. He'll next appear in court on June 23.
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